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Forever & Always by Sarah Sanders

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review-lite

…because…short, sweet, quick read


  • Very, very appealing MCs
  • Super-cute relationship
  • No angst
  • Likeable supporting cast in brief appearances
  • Fun dialogues
  • Good humour
  • Amongst the prettiest covers ever
  • Appearance (very, very brief) by Sonja Romanov (heart eyes) from Delicate

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐



Hunting Astrid by Thea Landen

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is an imaginative sci-fi romance where the imaginary world and the romance are equally important and equally detailed. 

Astrid Carlisle is a gifted programmer. Right out of college she is snapped up by Satera Industries an interplanetary organisation that develops tough simulations and hires mercenaries. She develops life-like simulations that are used as tests during the hiring process by Satera. The office is based on a rather remote space station so most people who come there are either coupled (or familied) up or diehard workaholics. Astrid is something of a workaholic but would like to have someone to share her life with. 

After running the latest batch of applicants through the simulation, during the debrief at the end, Astrid’s eye is caught by the winner of the test – a dark-haired, arresting lady. A lady she bumps into on her way back home later in the evening and who seems to have invited her out. Astrid can’t be sure – though, she is. Flustered, she exits the train without even asking the lady’s name.

Satera is lax about legalities and there aren’t many rules that their employees have to follow, so egged by her colleague (and friend), Astrid goes through the application and learns that the lady is Tabitha Knox an ex-Marine. She gets Tabitha’s number and with just hope on her side she sends a message asking to meet in the evening. 

The evening is more than expected because of the crackling electricity between them. 

This is a short book packed with action, emotion and attraction. Despite the length, Landen manages to etch the characters in detail. We completely felt Astrid’s vulnerability, intelligence, liveliness, humour and tentativeness. Tabitha is a perfect counterpoint with her self-assurance, worldliness, responsibilities, exuberance and attention. The attraction and chemistry between the two are palpable and you’re waiting for the first kiss. (When the first kiss does happen, it is everything we wished for).

The simulations, which form a goodish part of the narrative, are involving and immersive. We loved that Landen used the simulations as the setting for a date – very escape room meets virtual gaming hip. 

This one could’ve been twice the length and we’d totally have read it in one sitting. 


PS: Don’t miss the note to the readers from the author in the beginning. The first para is hilarious and captures why writing lesfic is no easy job. Ms. Landen, please don’t feel under-confident about your writing skills – they’re spot on. And maybe another one in the same world about Rowan Satera? (One can always wish, right?)

⭐⭐⭐⭐

And Then There Were Four by Elna Holst

 

⭐⭐⭐☆

This is the fourth book of Holst’s Tinsel and Spruce Needles series that essentially has one book every Christmas – so the title can be as much play about that, as about the arrival of twins.

This book is an update about what’s happening with all the characters from the series. Each of the four chapters gives a peek into a different character’s life. The first chapter has Erika Stolt and Padma Lingren (from Candlelight Kisses) who are about to have twins. The second chapter tells us what’s happening with Helena Hansen (now this is a character who deserves a love story of her own). The third chapter has the Andersson sisters, Mia (Wild Bells) and Fifi (Little x). The final chapter has the birth of the twins and the start of something new for Gunilla Andersson (Mia and Fifi’s mom – and we hope for her story too – though this one is supposed to be the last of the series).

The writing is fluid, the characters – we already like them all from the previous books and they remain great. Love the dialogues and consistency of characterisation across books. All the characters are linked in one way or another but interestingly, each chapter can be read as a short story by itself. Our favourite chapter is the third one – it has the strongest and the most romantic story. It would help if you’ve read the previous books in the series to get a sense of the characters and their relationships. (We’ve missed Candlelight Kisses so our connect with Erika and Padma was limited – though we really liked them individually and together in this one).

The book is rather short and given its length, there are a surprising number of explicit scenes. Since the sex is between different couples, it doesn’t seem like erotica, though a large part of the book is erotica.

This is a short, easy read about people you’ve met and liked earlier.

⭐⭐⭐☆

Synclair by Rachel Gold

 

⭐⭐⭐★

Teenage is the time of exploring, of searching and of defining oneself. Gold writes about teens and their struggles with panache in her books. The first book that we read by this author was In the Silences which is one of the most powerful, moving and beautiful books we’ve ever read (and re-read). Synclair is a story about a teenager during a watershed summer. 


The main players: 


Emma Synclair: Seventeen, gay. Older brother, Mac. Parents active atheists who strongly discourage any religious or theistic explorations. In love with her best friend, Kinz.


Kinz: Synclair’s rock. Deeply religious and unforgiving father resulting in poor home life and an active dislike for everything religion. Has a girlfriend, Camden. 


Camden: Loves her God and religion. Loves Kinz. Mature and articulate. New to Kinz’s group of Synclair, Kinz and Duke. Brings along her BF, Jay, into the group.


Jay: Outdoorsy, cool, rolls with the punches, ends up with Duke.


Duke: Cheerful, rock solid, struggling with a medical condition that affects him on a physical level too.


Avery: Synclair’s old friend who had disappeared before sixth grade. More spiritual than belonging to any organised religion, Avery explores all sorts of free-flowing beliefs building her own belief system.


Besides these characters, there is Synclair’s brother Mac and there are smaller appearances by various parents. 


It is summer vacation and Synclair’s parents are travelling while their house is being remodelled so their house ends up becoming the gathering spot for everyone. Synclair has always been interested in understanding various theological beliefs but keeps her interest hidden from her parents. During this watershed summer, she intends finding God / religion/ spirituality – anything that resonates with her. She is also confused about and exploring love and attraction because she is attracted to Avery, Kinz and Camden. 

There are so many books about children rebelling against unforgiving religious beliefs and feeling boxed in by their parents’ theological demands and non-acceptance. It’s an opposite perspective in this – Synclair’s parents are completely accepting of her sexuality but she has to work to make them accept her need to understand and/or find religion. It’s startling to realise that acceptance needs to be more expansive and encompassing. It is accepting a person for everything that they are. 

This book is mostly about acceptance. Within the cast, Gold covers different types, shades and depths of belief. There is a very Looking for Alaska vibe to the book with the teenagers experiencing, exploring, expounding and explaining within their group. The dialogues flow, there are some hilarious moments and snappy back chat. The interactions and relationships are believable and every single person is extremely likeable. 

Quite a nice read, this. 

⭐⭐⭐★

#CassiNova by Lori G. Matthews


⭐⭐⭐☆

This one is a sitcom that doesn’t aim at being anything other than broadstrokes funny.

Samantha Cassidy is a popular, closeted TV actress with an Emmy under her belt and a dream of winning an Oscar. Alex Novato is a landscaper in her day job, but an aspiring author with a dream of getting published. As a creative outlet, Alex writes a fanfic shipping Sam’s character with that played by another actress, Emma, on the show. Sam and her manager, Jade, are impressed with the fanfic and decide to have a looksee at the author. It just so happens that Sam is in dire need of an overhaul of the outdoor areas of her new house and Alex is hired.

There is not much of a story. In fact, the story is only an excuse for comedic scenes. This book was originally a Clexa fanfic on AO3 and in the lack of plot, the fanfic origins show. However, it was hilarious as fanfic and it is hilarious in the book form too. 

Sam and Alex are very likeable. We particularly liked that Alex doesn’t put pressure on Sam to come out before she is ready. 

Since this is good old plain comedy, there is no reason the analyse characters or situations – just enjoy the lightness and at many times, the howlariousness of the on-going madness. 

⭐⭐⭐☆

Accidental Honeymoon by Miranda Macleod

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐★

A thoroughly enjoyable romcom with very appealing leading ladies.

Monica Panagiotopoulos is an Instagram influencer with a nightmare ex trying to make Monica homeless. Part of the ex’s plan to render Monica homeless is get some work done to attract a higher rate for the house. Enter Ray, the hot ‘handy ma’am’. Despite immediate attraction between the two, the sparks flying are passionate alright, but not of the delicious kind. They are judgemental about each other, cutting and entirely not liking who the other is. 

That is the start. But circumstances, inopportune arrival of Monica’s parents and a conditional bequeath by Monica’s grandmom conspire to turn them into a ‘couple’ for the inheritance. And the, Monica’s followers make the ‘couple’ a thing and their ‘relationship’ becomes a public property. 

This is an exceptionally entertaining rich (maybe not so rich initially)-girl-poor-girl fauxmance. Monica and Ray are extremely likeable and all the factors pushing them together and forcing them to stay together are hilarious. The conflict was a little convoluted but the cliax following it was pure romcom awesomeness. 

A book to totally love.  

⭐⭐⭐⭐★

Wildest Dreams by Sarah Sanders


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review-lite
because
  • Sizzling sex
  • Madly appealing MCs
  • Great chemistry
  • Lovely relationship
  • Bonus: a brief appearance of one of our character-loves: Radhika from Jump then Fall
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

  
      




Too Good to be True by Leigh Hays

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

This is an age-gap romance, but that description doesn’t do justice to the depth of characterisation and the wonderfully built relationship contained within. 

Madison Hewitt (28) is a social worker. Jen Winslow (42) is a rain-maker in her profession of fundraising. The two run into one another at a wedding and there are sparks between them – more like a flame. Though neither of them is a one-night-stand kind of person, they do end up in bed together. Jen leaves the next morning before Madison wakes, but leaves a note with her number, which Madison throws away. Madison has been pretty much devasted – personally and professionally – by the last woman she was involved with and circumstantially, it looks like Jen is in almost exactly the same situation as Madison’s ex.

But Madison and Jen meet again is a loosely formal work situation. Madison is the social worker in the school that Jen’s son attends. When Madison puts forward a food security proposal, the principal asks Jen to help with the fundraising. It is an awkward situation especially since the draw between them only keeps growing stronger. 

Madison and Jen are wonderfully drawn and given depths, dimensions, backstories and maturity. The chemistry between them is electric (good sexy times too) and the way their relationship is developed simply rocks. In fact, it is so well done that we actually slowed down our reading to savour their feelings and experience our emotions in response to their relationship. 

Both women are struggling with the impact that their pasts have had on them and truly working to deal with that so that they can somehow be together and see where their relationship goes. There is some angst which develops organically in the natural course of their interaction and completely based on all the baggage that they are carrying individually. 

Admittedly the first half flows smoother and faster, but that is because it is the relationship-building stage. That bit always seems to be easier to write and make more immersive. The second half is also strong and we loved the way Madison and Jen deal with their own shortfalls. This ranks with Breathless by Sarah Sanders, Temptation by Kris Bryant, The X Ingredient by Roslyn Sinclair, Kiss the Girl by Melissa Brayden, Jump Then Fall by Sarah Sanders, Off Balance by L.E. Royal and Finding Jessica Lambert by Clare Ashton (amongst others) in our list of excellent age gap romances.

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

The Holiday Treatment by Elle Spencer

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

This is a light, fluffy, feel-good, delightfully cheesy romcom. 

Holly (Holiday – yes, that’s her name. isn’t it terribly cute?) is the writer of super-successful Christmas romances set in the fictional town, Evermore, for Wifetime Channel. While her movies are madly popular. Holly’s dearest wish is to write a gay Christmas romance. Something that she’d have liked t see while growing up. Her idea is shot down repeatedly and she’s determined not to sign up for a new Evermore romance unless she can also get the greenlight for her gay romance.

Despite writing the popular Christmas romances, Holly personally is not into the holiday. She prefers to spend it by herself in Hawaii each year. Serendipitously, this time, her office crush, Meredith Drake is also in Hawaii, in the same resort at the same time. Meredith was supposed to be hosting a bachelorette for her sister who has seemingly flaked out and informed everyone else in the party, sans Meredith. 

Holly and Meredith spend time together and have what could be a holiday fling. Except it isn’t with Meredith asking to date Holly when they get back to their real life. Holly is more than happy to agree. 

But things aren’t smooth sailing for the couple when they return. Meredith is promoted and has to adhere to newly put-in-place strict workplace relationships. 

This is assuredly a romance with romance being the driver of the story. However, it reads like Holly’s story. Meredith has probably as much page time as Holly’s quirky group of friends. So it’s safe to say that this is a story around one central character, Holly. And Holly is undoubtedly a delightful central character. She is utterly and completely adorable. Meredith, as a foil romantic interest is also quite charming. The assorted supporting characters are also totally fun. 

There is some angst, but it doesn’t weigh down the light, peppy proceedings of the narrative. We absolutely love the unexpected celebrity status Holly has in her hometown and having a day named after her – the cherry on top of the cheesiness!

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆





Two to Tangle by Melissa Brayden


⭐⭐⭐⭐★

This is the second in the Tangle Valley series by the inimitable Melissa Brayden. 

Gabriella Russo has moved to small town, Whisper Wall in Oregon, as the chef for the in-the-pipeline restaurant to be opened in Tangle Valley Vineyard owned by Joey Wilder. Gabriella moved to Tangle Valley with her ex, Joey’s close friend, Madison LeGrange, a winemaker of note. Gabriella and Madison sucked as a couple but rock as friends and the threesome have become very close. 

Ryan Jacks is the contractor chosen to build the restaurant, Tangle. Girl with tools, she is quite a player around town knows for her no-strings-attached hook-ups. 

Gabriella and Ryan are attracted towards each other but their path becomes rocky when Madison finds renewed interest in Gabriella and Ryan lets her person demons get better of her.

First off – the writing. Brayden’s unique whimsical funny is always a delight to read and in this one she leans into it with even more self-assurance. The writing, as always, scores big time. 

Gabriella is awesome. Sassy, talented, funny, fiery and all things good. She is a very, very well-developed character. 

We didn’t completely get Ryan. She’s never been in love before so she’d never been hurt before. Given that, her fear of being open is not quite understandable. We do understand the feeling of Imposter Syndrome and not being good enough, but Ryan just carried it too far and too long. Especially when Gabriella, despite Ryan’s disappearing tricks, conquers her hurt and declares her feelings – only to be met with silence from Ryan. Not cool. 

The group of the three friends rocks even if they sound, think and act impossibly alike.  

On the whole a thoroughly entertaining read since it is as always, smartly written by the queen of excellent light reads.

⭐⭐⭐⭐★




Three Little Spells by JA Armstrong

 

⭐⭐⭐★

We confess that we picked this novella up only because of its winsome cover. 

Beth Carmichael is a nurse and a leaf-raking-procrastinator. She is in the midst of trying-but-failing to rake the many, many leaves in her garden when her new next door neighbour, Bridget Dobbins, comes across with a ‘hello, I’m new to the neighbourhood’ pie. Beth learns that Bridget has three daughters and assumes that there is a husband also in the background. When she returns the ‘hello’ pie with goodies from McDonalds, she becomes wise to the fact the Bridget is in fact single and gay and the daughters are all adopted. 

Bridget takes the initiative to get to know Beth better and explore their initial attraction further. 

Beth and Bridget are both likeable ladies. The kids (alas, too little page time spent n them) are so cute. (Honestly, with the title and the cover, we’d anticipated much more of the girls). There are some good, funny dialogues and situations at the start but then it all settles into an even-paced, simple, non-angsty read. 

There is really little (or nothing) to find fault with in this one, but then, on the other hand, there is no much t rave about either. 

A good enough short, Halloween read.

⭐⭐⭐★


Finding a Keeper by Nicole Pyland

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

New adult, slow-burn, self-discovery, growing up fast, dealing with painful exigencies – this book covers a lot of dimensions with panache.

Sloan Rossi is the daughter of a US diplomat posted in London. She’d been in London since she lost her mother at eleven and shares a close, loving relationship with her father. Sloan is a gifted footballer playing forward and was already in the under-18 team in a prestigious team. However, when it comes to further studies and training, she chooses to accept the full soccer scholarship offered by Winterpark, her mom’s alma mater, in the USA. Winterpark’s soccer programme is noteworthy and making headway in the NCAA championships. 

Marley Nichols is a junior in Winterpark. Also playing soccer, Marley is a goalie. She is keen on getting scouted and has only two years to catch the eye of the scouts. As luck would have it, Marley injures herself practically in the first training session and is out for the season. Since the team is running low on goalies, Sloan is roped in and proves to be a natural. 

Sloan and Marley are on the path of friendship since their first day in dorm and the friendship grows organically. It takes a deeper dimension when Sloan loses her father and Marley is the rock to support her. When Marley faces rejection from her parents because of her sexuality, Sloan is her support. So the relationship is beautifully balanced and equal. 

The romantic relationship takes time to emerge but the way the relationship between Sloan and Marley develops and deepens throughout makes it feel organic. Marley is out from the beginning but for Sloan, the attraction towards Marley is a journey of self-discovery. Mercifully there is no angst. Well, okay, there is about half a scene of angst with Marley acting like an unreasonable jerk and her friends telling her to get her head out of her ass asap. But besides that, the relationship between Sloan and Marley is beautifully built. 

Sloan is someone we can totally fall for. Everything about her is fall-for-worthy. She’s certainly one of our favourite fictional sportswomen along with Sonja Romanov from Delicate by Sarah Sanders, Callie Mulligan from Fire & Ice by Rachel Spangler and Madison Fletcher from A Shot at Gold from this series.

We really liked the highly-sexed friends, Emily and Alison, and think they deserve a book of their own. At least a novella.

This is a very, very good read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

New Girl on the Street by Donna Jay

 

⭐⭐⭐★

Do you ever really get over your first crush/love? Most second chances romances agree that you don’t really get over them completely. As does this one. 

Lisa Barnett is an electrician. In the past she was given a hard time in school for being gay plus she is quite the butch. It also just so happened that the hottest girl in high school and an intrinsic part of the popular group, Bella McBride, was a closeted lesbian who had a flaming relationship with Lisa till they were caught by her friends. Soon after that, Bella disappeared from town and Lisa was left to handle the hate by herself. 

Fate conspires to bring Bella, more gorgeous than ever, back in town. Not only back in town but as Lisa’s next door neighbour. Bella, with a wedding bank and men’s shoes lying in a prominently visible place, seems to be married. She is also mysterious inasmuch she hauls two seemingly heavy suitcases out late at night, returns back even later, immediately puts cleaning materials in her car and varooms off early next morning. Naturally, Lisa’s interest in piqued not only because it is Bella, but also, just what the heel is she up to?

Bella makes no bones about her interest in Lisa which Lisa tries to fight off. But what is meant to be is just meant to be. 

We liked Lisa and total adored Bella. The first half of the book, till the two got together, flowed extremely well. After that, Jay addresses past issues (with the homophobic friends), coming out to parents and a frankly unnecessary detour with two of Lisa’s exes (one her current best friend) and their dynamic but it felt like absolutely nothing of consequence was happening in the book. 

Plenty of sex in this one. BDSM. We are somehow not wired to understand the dome-sub dynamic. We are completely unable to see it as an equal relationship. However, we admit that out of the bedroom, Bella is not at all sub. So not seeing the relationship because it is coloured by the dome-sub relationship is purely our bad. 

We also fail to get the turn-on factor in SM. How does spanking till a person is crying make for good sex? Again, this one is entirely on us because we’re not wired that way. 

We found Alice, a wannbe full time sub carrying a torch for Lisa despite being with someone else, a rather tragic character. She is coloured bad in the narrative, but she is someone we just felt bad for particularly since she is diagnosed bipolar. In fact, right from her first appearance, we felt deep sympathy for her. Wish she wasn’t there in the book or at least she had been given better characterisation and story. 

But, this above all, hot sex. 

Recommended for readers not squeamish about various degrees (albeit on the milder to medium levels) of BDSM and fans of the butch-femme pairing.

⭐⭐⭐★

The Other Women by Erin Zak

 

⭐⭐⭐☆

This one is more a drama than just a romance.


Dramatis personae


Cecily Yates

  • Married to a perfectly amiable man, Luke Yates
  • Loves him, not in love with him
  • Had a hot and heavy relationship with work colleague, Willow Carmichael, for four years having made it clear to Willow that she had no intention of breaking her marriage
  • Now separated (after Willow left Chicago for Las Vegas four months back)
  • Looking to pick up her relationship with Willow again during her work trip to Vegas


Willow Carmichael

  • Something of a player
  • Seduced and stayed with a married Cecily knowing that the latter wouldn’t leave her husband
  • Claims to love Cecily
  • Cruel in dumping Francesca with whom she’d had a relationship for three of her four months in Vegas


Francesca Lopez

  • Bartender
  • Sweet
  • Heartbroken
  • Unexpectedly swept away by Cecily (and also sweeping Cecily off her feet) 


Luke Yates

  • Amiable
  • Considerate


Cecily is the centre of the story. Given that all her actions seem wrong (cheating, having a long illicit affair, closeted with no intention of coming out, getting into an affair with Francesca rather quickly), she is surprisingly very, very likeable. Maybe because she really sees herself and doesn’t make excuses for her behaviour – amongst many other likeable factors. She is a very, very pale shade of grey.

Willow, while not exactly a main player on page, is quite the pivot of the story. She starts off a deep black and ends up a very-close-to-black grey. Barely. 

Francesca is charming, sweet and wholly white. 

Luke also, mostly white. Well, maybe an even paler shade of grey than Cecily. 

We loved the chemistry between Cecily and Francesca and were totally rooting for them. But we just did not get the conflict, particularly Cecily’s actions, words and reactions. This, despite really, really liking Cecily. 

On the whole, we quite enjoyed this book because we were invested in Cecily and in the romance between Cecily and Francesca right up to the end.

⭐⭐⭐☆


Lockset by Brenda Murphy


 ⭐⭐⭐☆

Eunice (Eun) Park is a litigator in Chicago and has been with the same firm for fifteen years. She is estranged from her father who, in their last meeting five years back, had gathered a group from his church to pray the gay out of her. 

When Eun receives a call from her father asking to meet her, she demurs and pushes it away to a couple of weekends later. But the meeting never materialises because her father dies of a massive coronary before that. So Eun goes back to settle the estate. 

Morgan Wright is a locksmith working with her father in a business owned by them and also a part-time animal shelter volunteer. Morgan and her sister were the people who discovered Eun’s father’s body when they responded to a call about a dog. Morgan takes the dog back home, since she almost instantly bonds with him. 

When Eun comes to town, she is in in multiple messes – dealing with her father’s demise, grappling with her extended family’s homophobic hate and getting a hard time at work amongst other things.

She hooks up with Morgan almost instantly thinking it would be just a hook-up driven by the overwhelming emotions she is trying to handle. However, the hook-up becomes more over even while there seems to be some mystery surrounding her father’s accounts and personal life. 

This is most definitely an erotic romance. There are lots (in all caps) frankly hot sex scenes – much like Jump Then Fall and Begin Again by Sarah Sanders. 

Given her circumstances, Eun’s pull-push-indifference behaviour with a truly supportive and all-round great partner-material Morgan becomes somehow explicable and you really root for them to get onto the same page fast. The mystery parts are okay but the relationship rules. And of course, the sex.

This is a pretty okay read.

⭐⭐⭐☆



Lost in the Starlight by Kiki Archer

 

⭐⭐⭐

This is a celebrity-journalist romcom that leans into the com aspect so hard that almost all characters are stereotypical caricatures. 

Honey Diamond is a mega-pop star. She is incredibly talented, famous and good looking. (Hello Taylor Swift). Her mother was also famous and she’d brought up Honey in a protected bubble. Margaret (Meg) Rutherton is a kind of a journalist who runs a trashy and frankly, salacious website SelebSecrets which seems to have a single aim of being nasty to celebrities. 

Honey isn’t exactly in the closet but has never discussed her sexuality in public. Meg (on whom she has a crush for like forever), via SelebSecrets, is determined to ‘expose’ Honey as a lesbian. Because of some unseemly and underserved gossip, Honey writes a song about her sexuality and insists that it should be a part of her new album. This is against the advice of her mother and manager. She also (against advice) decides to give an interview about the song and about her sexuality. It just so happens that the selected magazine has recruited Meg to replace their erstwhile correspondent, Margaret, and Meg turns up for the interview. 

Like we said, this book is filled with over-the-top caricaturised comedic characters and moments. Not that this detracts from the fun and funny parts. All characters except the two MCs are caricatures. Initially, Honey is also made out of the Disney Princess template but as the book progresses, she somehow makes her way into your heart with is purity.

Honey is naïve, innocent, positive, playful, honest, open, vulnerable and totally loveable. Meg, initially is not likeable. As we move into the second half and spend more time in Meg’s head, she moves from ‘not likeable’ to ‘dislikeable’ to ‘ohmygod, she’s quite terrible’. There is absolutely nothing to make Meg anywhere near a good match for Honey. So, while Honey kept us engaged and rooting or her happy ending, Meg made us want to DNF. We hate it when one of MCs is awesome and the other is awful. While we want awesome to find love we want that love to be the awful – so the HEA doesn’t make us feel completely good. 

We want to give Honey a 5+ rating but Meg goes into the negative on the scale. So we’ll have to settle with saying this book is okay. 

⭐⭐⭐



Home by Kris Bryant

 

⭐⭐★

Seventeen years after she left, Sarah Eastman, now a mother, returns to her aunt’s place in Spruce Mountain after a nasty divorce. The town has a population of a little over a thousand people, so running into the Sheriff, Natalie Strand, is unavoidable. 

When in high school, Sarah, the most popular girl, had kissed Natalie and then essentially ghosted her before leaving town. One small art of Natalie never got over Sarah. So, when they start spending time together again, the incomplete beginning from their high school days finds its inevitable ending.

Everything about this book is right. The MCs are likeable. There is an adorable kid and a seemingly prescient dog. The dialogue is good. The chemistry, perfect. 

Yet…

This book feels like it is competently written but there is no soul to it. It is like the craft is perfect but the art is missing. We don’t get the sense that the writer has got involved with the characters and is feeling them and resultantly, you don’t get involved and invested in the characters either. 

So, despite there being absolutely nothing technically wrong with this book, it is a rather ho-hum read.

⭐⭐★


One More Chance by Ali Vali

 

⭐⭐

Review-lite

…because…this is a refurbished fanfic first published in mid-2000s


  • Xena fanfic How Do You Mend a Broken Heart published by Vali in 2005, dusted and padded up for word count by the author and publisher
  • Refurbished, but still feels unpolished
  • A sequel to this story also exists – All it Took Was You – maybe that will also make an appearance as a novel sometime
  • We’re so extremely uncomfortable with super-butch characters who seem to secretly want to be men (case to point: in this book the Xena character, Harry, is called ‘Uncle Harry’ by a kid) 
  • Characterisations and storyline pretty clichéd and slightly over the top – as was he norm with Xena fanfic
  • This is not bad but then, it’s not wow either

⭐⭐



Puppy Love by Cara Malone

 

⭐⭐

This is a low-key, rather unconvincing romance. 

Marley St. James is thirty-seven. She’s a vet with partnership in a well-established practise but has a disastrous romantic life. She was emotionally (though not physically) involved with a married woman, Lillian, who claimed to have a bad marriage. That went south when Marley runs into Lillian’s wife at the supermarket and realises that Lillian was only stringing her along. With a history of choosing people who are unavailable in some way or another, Marley is just a tad jealous of all her friends finding the loves of their lives. Because all that Marley really wants is to love and be loved.

Blaire Baker is divorced. As a part of her healing process she attended a Buddhist retreat and has come back with a learning that everything is impermanent and therefore detachment is the key. Her mom’s dog, Toby, is Marley’s patient and Blaire and Marley meet when Blaire takes Toby to the vet. There is immediate attraction between Marley and Blaire which leads to further exploration. 

There is nothing exceptional about either Marley or Blaire – though between the two, Marley reaches you a tad more than Blaire. The relationship between them is at best, mundane. There is a distinct lack of chemistry and connection between them. Also, when Marley is so keen on forever, why she would get into a casual thing is inexplicable. The relationship smacks a little of desperation on Marley’s part. Blaire seems seriously superficial since it takes one conversation with her friend to change her ‘detachment’ world view. 

This one is entirely skippable. 

⭐⭐

The Matchmaker’s Choice by Alexa Woods

 

⭐⭐⭐

This is a straight-forward romance. 

Adley James is a highly strung, slightly flailing, goodhearted and sweet matchmaker. She works with an online matchmaking agency that offers personal support to their clients, which means that a human being, like Adley actually scrutinize and even engage with potential matches before suggesting personal meetings. Adley has had a sting of fails with her last six clients and is terrified that she might lose her job if she doesn’t succeed with her latest client, Stephanie De’Silvo.

Stephanie, a science teacher in high school, is not particularly keen on dating and unsure whether she really wants a match. She comes from money and finds that it colours the interactions during dating, hence, not keen. Deep in a closet, in a tightly shut drawer is the small kernel of truth that Steph actually likes women, ergo, unsure about being matched with a man. 

Adley is instantly attracted to Steph and is in the unenviable position of trying to get a match for her while kinda hoping that the matches don’t work out but that would mean losing her job. 

Adley and Steph are pleasant characters. The scene-stealer is Adley’s niece, Tilda. The attraction is decent. There is some sort of angst that we’ve completely forgotten. Part of the book reads really well but then when the conflict starts getting introduced, it is a little meh. 

On the whole, this is a non-intense, mostly predictable romance.

⭐⭐⭐



True Hearts by Ellie Green

 

⭐⭐

Set in a small town in Australia, this romance leaves much to be desired.

Gem Tillings was a baker in Melbourne with a shop specializing in vegan offerings. The business failed leaving Gem in debt and owing money to her parents and the bank. A friend gets her an office job in a school in Tyndall, a place that is a little more than a village. Miscommunication by the estate agent finds Gem without a place to lie when she arrives. As a solution, she is offered 9and she accepts) the only other property available – a shop which also has a tiny bedroom and bathroom attached.

Marnie is the overworked local vet who is also the landlord of the shop Gem’s renting. Marnie is a loner and considered slightly weird by the local for her keeping-to-herself ways.

The attraction between the two runs into the wall of Marnie’s extreme introversion which is at complete odds with Gem’s outgoing personality. 

Gem and Marnie are developed in detail. But the pull between them is completely lacking. Marnie is the more difficult character between the two, blowing hot blowing cold, jumping to conclusions and seemingly unable to get over herself. She is just way too much work and effort. If the intensity of burn and heat between the two was more, we could probably have rooted for them but as it is written, we felt zero involvement in the goings-on and the relationship. And therein lies the problem with the book – it doesn’t get us involved, though there is ample opportunity for it to have been and immersive read. 

Also, it begins very well. the introductory scenes of both the women and their first meeting were very well done. But that set an expectation of something written in a faster, breezier way. The sudden change of approach made the whole experience of the book nosedive. 

This one just didn’t grab us.

⭐⭐



Goode Deal by JJ Arias

 

⭐⭐⭐

This is an age-gap, office romance with a little bit of rich-girl-poor-girl mixed in. 

Carmela Bravo is a successful real estate agent who loves her job. She has a great relationship with her boss, is driven and is aiming to break into new territory. Rhiannon Rodriquez is an ambitious young lady who took a few years of college before deciding it wasn’t for her. Now she’s become a real estate agent who works in a dubious set-up and is not above using dubious means to move forward. 

In their first meeting, Rhiannon uses her charms on Carmela to gather information about the house that Carmela is holding and open house for and subsequently torpedoes the entire deal for Carmela. Somehow, Rhiannon manages to get a job in the same company as Carmela. Almost the first thing Rhiannon does is to steal an opportunity that Carmela has been working hard for. 

Given this beginning, the interaction to develop into a romance is a little farfetched, but that is what happens. There is background about both the women that gives some context to their personalities. 

On the plus side, Carmela is really likeable from the start and Rhiannon also kinda grows on you as the story progresses. The interaction between the two is fairly nice and the attraction between them is also well done. 

On the whole this is…well, nice.

⭐⭐⭐

Fusion by Diana Kane

 


Review-lite

…because…MC cheats on a perfectly lovely partner because the partner wants a stronger, deeper relationship


  • One of the fastest abandoned books for us (reason, above)
  • Cheating a loving partner is never something we can understand in any way



A Breathless Place by Harper Bliss

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐★

Isabel Adler, once a phenomenon in the world of music and winner of thirty-six (or thirty-seven) Grammys, loses her singing voice because of a surgery. The loss of her ability to sing is beyond debilitating for Izzy. She feels anchorless, adrift and almost like she’s lost herself and her identity. Almost a decade after the disaster of the operations, at almost sixty, Izzy has decided that she doesn’t want to continue this was any more. She decides to stop being. 

As her final acts, she is in the process of getting her autobiography written and she is secretly composing a farewell letter to her loved ones. A letter explaining herself and her decision. 

Six months before the date she has set for herself, her biographer has an accident and is replaced by another journalist, a Pulitzer-award winner, Leila Zedah. Leila turns out to be unexpected, to say the least. Her personality and presence create upheavals in Izzy’s controlled life. Their chemistry is completely disarming. Izzy finds herself captivated by Leila and drawn into a relationship which surpasses the initial no-strings-attached expectation. 

First off, a trigger warning. This basis of this book is suicide ideation. So, if that is in any way a trigger for you, you may want to think before you dive into it. 

Having got the trigger warning out of the way: this is a fabulous read Izzy and Leila are both beautiful women who have been written with love and care. Both have been fleshed out wonderfully. The chemistry between them is awesome. 

Izzy’s struggle to hold on to her decision, which has been five years in the making, warring against the undertow caused by her growing feelings and relationship with Leila is excellently understood and written. We love the fact that when Izzy ends up showing Leila her in-progress goodbye letter, Leia points out that this is an act of someone wanting to be dissuaded. The scene is well-thought out, extremely well-written and there is maturity, kindness and love in Leila’s conversation with Izzy. 

The premise of the book is very vaguely similar to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (ex-megastar deciding to end their life because of irreparable medial reasons and having their biography written) but the trajectory of the book is completely different.

This is rather an intense read but is rewarding in every way. We definitely recommend it. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐★



Her Forever: Lix 3 by Emily Hayes

 

⭐⭐★

Review-lite

…because…*shrug* 🤷


  • Lauren, the bouncy, super-enthusiastic and unbelievable thirty-something reaches the peak of her journey to becoming a submissive in this one with a ‘collaring ceremony’
  • We’re not super-convinced about the whole dome-sub dynamic being ‘equal’ despite the best efforts by the author to convince the reader about this
  • Find the relationship particularly imbalanced because more than once Quinn says that as the domme she got to ‘help’ (or actually write) what Lauren will say in the collaring ceremony, which is positioned as equivalent to a marriage in the kinky world
  • Better dialogue than in the previous two parts but still quite unnatural
  • Unbelievable conversations between Lauren and her friends
  • The relationship between Lauren and Quinn also seems strangely wooden and stilted
  • Heads-up: much less sex in this one than expected from Hayes (but then, Lix 2 has a surfeit of sex)

⭐⭐★

Must Love Silence by Lucy Bexley

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Misanthropic Reese Walker hasn’t left her apartment for 272 days. Her job as an audio book narrator of lesbian romances (mostly) allows her to work from home and that suits her just fine. Her biggest problem is her aggressively nice and kind neighbour, Judith. Her entire social life consists of her sister, lo, who is currently in rehab for alcoholism, and an old friend, David. 

When she is forced to answer an unexpected and unwelcome knock on her door, she receives a bill from the rehab of a large amount of money. Fiercely protective, Reese knows she needs to somehow raise the money for Lo. Via David she receives and offer to read a book that may just help her earn the required money. The catch is that she needs to leave her house and record it in a studio in New York under the supervision of the author, Arden Abbot.

Hot, sexy, successful Arden turns out to be something of a micromanager picking on Reese’s pronunciations of words like ‘Sarah’ and ‘and’. Reese is neither happy with Arden’s ‘helpful’ suggestions nor with the fact that Arden is impossibly sweet and attractive. Reese mentally rages against Arden till she realises that Arden is fighting battles of her own. 

The story is narrated entirely from Reese’s point of view so we are privy to all her thoughts, feelings and emotions. She is not awfully likeable or dislikeable. Mainly, she is funny in her extreme reactions to ‘people’ and ‘outside’. At some point, we also realise that besides being misanthropic, Reese is also an introvert and cannot handle being around people too much. 

Arden is a lovely, lovely lady. In fact, the whole relationship growth between Arden and Reese is skewed in the beginning with Arden making all the effort in both, their professional and personal interactions. 

These are two women dealing with their own demons and trying to handle their own imperfections while making the effort to grow and let another person in. That is so heartwarming. We loved that the conflict is totally organic and completely in keeping with the characterisations. It is a situation where, very interestingly, both are right in their actions and expectations and both are wrong in dealing with the other.  

But what really makes this book a highly engaging read is the humour. The writing is awesome (though there are a few regrettable typos – but nothing too bad). 

This one is a perfectly lovely read with a cast full of likeable characters.

⭐⭐⭐⭐



Mutual Benefits by HP Munroe

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐★


Hannah Melville has always felt like the odd one out in her family. While the rest of her family (parents, twin siblings – sister and brother) are all into science one way or another, Hannah is a dress designer. She is successful enough but still feels defensive. As the oldest child, she’s also been something of a conformist and is chafing a bit under always being responsible and predictable. At a family dinner with her parents, when her mother turns the conversation towards Hannah’s love life – again, she decides rock the boat and announces she is gay. Only, instead of the shock and negative reaction that she anticipated her parents celebrate her “coming out” saying they suspected it all along. And the next thing Hannah knows is that her mother has set her up on a blind date – with a woman. 

Ashley West is a firefighter – a hot firefighter. She is out but not interested in a relationship. She’s been rather badly burnt by a relationship in the past with a girl who claimed to be straight but also insisted she loved Ashley. The ex could never come to terms with her own sexuality and Ashley suffered greatly in the situation. Now Ashley is not ready for a relationship and definitely more than a little leery about having anything to do with straight girls and their experimentation. 

But Hannah is the exact opposite of Ashley’s ex. Ashley’s ex claimed to be straight while having an affair with Ashley and Hannah is out as gay to the world and insists she is straight in private.

To keep their mothers of their backs, Hannah and Ashley agree to pretend to be in a relationship for the world.

Hannah and Ashley are both extremely appealing. The dialogue is sharp and the relationship is really sweet. Munroe takes time in developing the relationship over a period of time and offers plenty of insight into both, Hannah’s and Ashley’s minds and emotions. We loved their interaction, their banter, their caring for each other and the whole relationship.

The secondary characters provide excellent context and are all extremely likeable. We loved the little scene where Hannah’s best friend points out that Hannah hasn’t really been seeing or appreciating the support she receives from her parents and sister because she is so busy feeling like she doesn’t belong. This is absolutely true – completely missing out what is there because you’ve decided something and colour everything with the strokes of that prejudice. 

This is a delightful romcom with great humour and a decent dose of emotions in which everything (including justifiable not-forced-or-drawn-out conflict) just right. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐★




Now and Again by Natasha West

 

⭐⭐⭐☆

This is a second chances book but not entirely, because the first time around, the relationship was abbreviated and nixed before it could develop. 

Juliet Sullivan is a nanny. She works with wealthy families looking after their kids with immense love and patience – because Juliet loves kids and she loves her job. When her current employer gets a promotion at work and is scheduled to move to Canada, Juliet finds a new job in the Powell household consisting of an irritable man of the house, a harassed and harried mom, an unmanageable little girl – and Riley Powell.

Riley and Juliet were together in high school where Riley was the all-round popular girl, who was also a good person and did well in her studies, while Juliet was the outcast (because she wasn’t as rich as the others). Riley’s best friend India particularly delighted in picking on Juliet. Despite their differences, Riley and Juliet shared one kiss and that could’ve developed further given that they both were crushing on the other. But India’s machinations ended that possibility. 

Now, Riley had been evicted from the rental house she was living in and is crashing at her father’s with his second family. Riley has no love lost for her dad and can’t wait to get away. When Juliet is added into the mix, things get more complicated because both women still harbour feelings for each other. 

Riley and Juliet are both very appealing women and the attraction that they feel for the other is inescapable. West writes good background about them both and explores their thoughts enough to make their actions understandable. This story is entirely built on non-communication, mis-communication and jumping to conclusions, which is somehow made understandable from the characters’ points of view. We admit that we feel more sorry for than angry with the bad guy, India, because all her actions arise from her own struggles.

This is meant to be a light entertainer and does that job really well. Particularly the scene towards the end where all Powells descend on Juliet. That was pure romcom climax which was thoroughly enjoyable. 

This one is quite a good read. 

⭐⭐⭐☆

Succulents and Spells by Andi C. Buchanan

 

⭐⭐⭐

Laurel Windflower comes from a family of witches but so far her real powers evade her. Sure, she can cook up some potions and stuff but feels rather like her life is going nowhere. 

Marigold Nightfield arrives in Laurels life seeking information about a monster living in Laurel’s house. A mostly benign monster. Marigold is a scientist doing research on monsters. Marigold’s family had magic but she has none. 

During Laurel’s first visit to Marigold’s mansion she is almost knocked over by the presence of some hidden magic. The two women set out to find what secrets are hidden in the house and end up discovering much more than expected. 

This is a rather sweet book. Well written. Two likeable MCs. A rather involved magical realm. Nice chemistry between the mains. We really liked Marigold’s self-awareness and self-acceptance, and we liked everything about Laurel. 

It does take some time to get into the world and complexities that are created in the book, but that’s part of its interestingness. The book doesn’t end with a cliff hanger but there is definitely promise of more to come (hopefully because there is so much more to be explored yet).

A nice enough read.

⭐⭐⭐

The Lesbian Billionaires Last Hope by KC Luck

 

⭐⭐⭐

Review-lite

…because…the next predictable instalment of the predictable stories in the series

  • Unimaginably rich, closeted women from across the world form a closed association: The Lesbian Billionaires Club 
  • Extremely predictable (slim) stories of each billionaire told with heavy-handed tediousness
  • To be fair, this one has more of a storyline than the two preceding it
  • Lots of sex – these books are all erotic romances
  • Hope is rather likeable
  • These billionaires have absolutely suck-y security – all of them in all the books
  • The next one promises to be one starring socially awkward billionaire, Kris, and billionaire arch-villain, Georgia DeLane who is almost a cartoonish caricature, but still our favourite character in this series  

⭐⭐⭐

The Setup by T. B. Markinson

 

⭐⭐⭐☆

Review-lite

…because…not a lot of story in this one


  • The whole story happens in one single day that the two mains are ‘setup’ by a mutual friend 
  • Good dialogue
  • Markinson manages to give enough background about both leads (especially Imogen)
  • The day seemed just too long – and for just one day (or less) it felt too much emotionally and the sheer number of incident-wise 
  • This one could’ve well been spread over a few days and been called a novel instead of a novella
  • Once again – great dialogue

⭐⭐⭐☆

Twice Shy by Aurora Rey, Narrated by Keira Grace (Audiobook)

 

⭐⭐⭐★

Amanda Russo, owner of Bake My Day, is a successful businesswoman on her way to expanding her popular bakery. She’d just bought the space next door and meets with the architect, Quinn Sullivan, to discuss her vision. 


Amanda and Quinn are both divorced women. Amanda’s ex, Mel, cheated on her and left her and their two kids (now teenagers). Ditto Quinn. Neither of them is particularly looking to get into another relationship despites friends and family egging them to at least date and put themselves out there, maybe just a little. 


On an overnight visit to see her daughter’s recital, Amanda ends up sleeping with Mel, who is in the process of ending things with her new wife (because new wife wants kids and Mel doesn’t). And then they sleep together again. And then the fix up a date for which Mel doesn’t turn up. 


Quinn is attracted to Amanda right away but being somewhat shy and insecure doesn’t particularly do anything about it. But soon they do end up spending time together and their relationship develops. 


So, the synopsis is sketchy considering that there is a lot of presence of Amanda’s children and Mel in this book. Also, the relationship between Amanda and Quinn is developed at an unhurried and convincing pace. The two ladies are very well-developed characters and we really get to know them well. Plus, couple of smoking hot sex scenes. 


But there are a couple of things that weren’t particularly understandable. First, Amanda repeatedly sleeping with Mel and agreeing to meet her for a date all the while loudly protesting that she doesn’t want them to get back together. Didn’t compute. (For the record, Mel seems to be a jerk with her wives. But a mom she seems to have a good relationship with the kids and also seems to be someone the children can count on in times of emergency.) 


The second thing we didn’t quite get was – why exactly did Quinn want a break? Mel made a grand gesture that Amanda rejected. Amanda goes to Quinn post that fiasco…and Quinn asks for space? Huh? There’s lots of mature dialogue but we like are romances to be, well, romantic. More feeling, less thought. 


Keira Grace has a lovely voice and does a great job with the nine-plus hours. But there were times when we wished we’d read the book instead of listening to it – we’d have like to hear voices, intonations and emotions from our imagination in this one. We’d probably have got more involved into it them. Guess we are hardcore readers, after all.

⭐⭐⭐★

Wild Things by Karin Kallmaker, Narrated by Abby Craden (Audiobook)


⭐⭐⭐⭐★

Review-lite

…because…this is a lesfic classic


  • First published in the 1990s, this book undoubtedly started off as a Xena fanfic – but has nothing really to do with the serial. It would’ve been an uber fic.
  • Like Denial from around the same time and probably with the same Xena-fanfic genesis, this has one MC (Faith) involved with the other MC’s (Sydney) brother
  • Like many books of that time, this has the two MCs struggling against their attraction towards each other
  • Struggles with owning one’s sexuality – a mid-thirties coming of age story
  • Big role of religion and homophobic parents contextualize and capture the period perfectly
  • We somehow find that the books written is the 1990s are incredibly emotionally passionate – the angst, the feelings, the struggles, the rampant emotions – all so passionate and immersive
  • The angst!
  • Great characterisation
  • We adore (read that in all caps) Faith Fitzgerald 
  • Abby Craden. Nothing more to be said there. Except…no one whispers as seductively as she does.
⭐⭐⭐⭐★



Pitifully Ugly by Robin Alexander

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review-lite

…because…Robin Alexander


  • Robin Alexander humour and hilarity all the way
  • The dildo mishap scene? Totally ROFL
  • More feinting by MCs than expected
  • Really liked both the ladies….but Hailey a tad more

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Matters of the Heart
The Shark
Then & Now
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Just Married?
Give Me a Reason
Dare to Stay
Peppermint Kiss
Eyes Like Those
Love Like This
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The Arrangement
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Marriage of Unconvenience
The Lucky Ones
Bliss
Off Screen
Reality Check
Far from Home
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